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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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Writing

So, I finished revisions on Novel Now Finished…….

…….and I feel pretty good about it.  Granted, I merged to short chapters to make a more robust single chapter, effectively losing one.  And I had to go through the tedious process of re-naming two minor characters and almost missed a couple of places.  Also, there was the general clean-up of the timeline and removal of dialogue that conflicted with said timeline.

The Manuscript in Question.

Still, it was well worth the effort and I feel very pleased.  As soon as I’m able and depending on availability, it then goes back to my editor with her laser gaze and keen intellect.  If it hadn’t been for her, I would not have gotten Novel Now Finished to its current state.

Now, as I set it aside once more to percolate, I’ve found myself thinking about two characters who appear only once.  They have a short scene that takes place in 1924 and both characters figure prominently in my first published novel, Secrets & Howls.

Outside the narrator of Novel Now Finished, they are my favorite characters.  I’m fascinated with their relationship, their passion and their places in the world.  In Secrets & Howls, they are older, wiser and still very much in love with each other, though they live their lives separately, a choice that seems to suit them.  In Novel Now Finished, they are young and impetuous, bold and secure.

I think they deserve their own story.  I want to get to know them and their world a little better and see how their lives unfold.  Maybe a short story, or a novella.  It needs to be something that will compliment the world I’m building.

Something to chew on, anyway.

So, I’m about thirty chapters into Novel Now Finished revision…..

……and it’s going.  I’ve finally worked out the timeline of the novel from beginning to end and it comes out to about a week.  While there’s a lot going on, the bulk of the action seems to be happening on the weekend, beginning on Friday and ending on Monday.

A lot always seems to happen on the weekend.

Had I thought about it a little more, I would have set up Novel Now Finished much in the same way that I had set up Secrets & Howls.  In that book, I had designed it to take place over the course of a week.  To clarify this point, I placed an independent page stating the day of the week, followed by the chapters that took place over the course of that day and then ended the day with a segment of a letter from 1852.  Then it would start all over again, until the novel ended with the final fragment from 1852.

But it was also a different kind of story than Novel Now Finished, which had always felt more fluid with its time than structured.  This is in part due to the fact that Secrets & Howls is told primarily in third person, with the ability to dip into the lives of various other characters and places without breaking the narrative.  Novel Now Finished is told in first person and, with very few exceptions, remains that way throughout.

Still, in keeping a timeline for any novel, it helps to keep the story’s continuity flowing and if you’re really on top of it, you’ll catch errors before it goes into print.  Whether it’s in third, first or second Point of View, it’s a helpful aid in keeping track of your characters and their actions within the story.

All I can say now is, whew!

The Manuscript in Question.

 

So, I’m revising Novel Now Finished…..

……and apparently, it decided that, yes, there is indeed a timeline.  Which I already knew about, because the bulk of the story takes place a few weeks before summer.  I wasn’t particular about the exact dates beyond the number of days between separate incidents.  And for the most part, it seemed to work swimmingly.

Except, now I’m going through and cutting needless words and cleaning up paragraphs that are left behind.  And the more I cut and revise and clean up, the clearer the story becomes.  And the clearer the story gets, the more details I’m finding about the timeline.  Vague, throwaway lines like “Oh, it happened a few days ago” will find it harder to survive.  Concise statements like “It was on Sunday” will take over.

So now, I’ve got a Word document in place to keep track of the timeline and help minimize confusion (which would be mine). This will also help keep it clear and concise for readers (which would be you, if I may be so lucky).  As of today, I’ve managed to track one week, beginning with a case of vandalism.  It’s a few sentences long, with the timeline basically being the day of the week, followed by a dash (-) and a short sentence describing the event that occurred on that day.

I haven’t decided on actual dates beyond the month, but that will change at some point.  I’m a little over a hundred pages into the revision as I write this blog, but as I go along, that timeline will grow and become as detailed as necessary.

And then I’ll go back and do it all over again.

The Manuscript in Question.

So, I’ve been brushing up on my editing skills…..

…….by looking over the first chapter of an acquaintance’s novel.  It’s been a while and I was more than a little nervous, because it’s different editing the work of someone you know (even slightly) than the work of someone you don’t know.

There’s that added pressure of not wanting to hurt or bruise feelings as you go through their words and say, “That sentence strikes a nice image, but take out ten words” or “Reduce that paragraph to two or three lines”.  But you gird your loins and you wade in and you do your best to give them clear, concise notes on how to excavate the story buried underneath a mountain of words, like an archaeologist sifts through dirt to find the relics.

Because that’s how I view a completed manuscript – as an archaeological site that is pristine and untouched.  Editing is the tool used to dig and sift and brush away the excess to unearth what lies beneath.  Michaelangelo had a similar point of view – he didn’t carve the statue of David out of marble, he simply whittled away at the excess, freeing what was already inside the slab.

My own experiences with the editor of my Novel Now Finished taught me a lot as I prepared to go over that first chapter.  And I discovered that I still have that skill to edit, to offer notes and suggestions.  It was rusty from disuse, but there, and the notes I made for my acquaintance helped him enormously.  I feel confident in that skill again.  And I plan to move forward and keep doing it.  Not only am I working on a marketable skill, but it helps me to improve my own writing.

Complementary skills, writing and editing.  And useful.

Suggested reading:
On Writing by Stephen King

So, I’ve begun a new notebook of ideas……

……for the sequel to Novel Now Finished.  This is new territory for me, because I’ve never actually written a true sequel before.  I’ve written many stories that developed into multiple novels (written or in summary form), but never upon completing a manuscript.  I know who’s returning, who’s new to the story and I even have a story to go with the idea.

I’d known from the start that this would be a five-book arc – I didn’t want to write more than that involving these characters.  Part of that is because of my own experiences in reading several different series – by the time I get to book six, I’m bored and wishing the whole thing had been wrapped up in the previous book.  This is not the fault of the writer – I’ve read many authors whose series spanned multiple titles and have always enjoyed them.  But lately, my attention span has petered out at book five and I’d rather leave my audience wanting more than losing their interest (this is also an old theater saying).

While writing Novel Now Finished, I had no idea of how I was going to carry this character into another book, let alone four more.  I don’t usually plan my stories out to the tiniest detail nor do I use an outline – I tried the outline once and found it to be more of a hindrance than in any way helpful.  [1]  I was a little worried about how I was going to stretch this character’s story out beyond this one novel, regardless of how much I enjoyed her world.

The idea came to me while I was rearranging a snippet in Novel Now Finished – a simple image of the character standing at the entrance of a seldom used road.  Suddenly, I had an idea of what the story would be, of what the mystery would entail and who was going to be involved.  I also knew that there would be some character dynamics at play that I hadn’t tried before, so I’m curious to see how that works out.

And a few days ago, I wrote the first page of what’s to eventually become the sequel to Novel Now finished.

The character showed me what’s going to happen next in her story.  Now all I have to do is pay attention and write it.

The Manuscript in Question.

[1] I’m not suggesting that outlining or planning out a story to the smallest detail is wrong in general, just wrong for me, specifically.  If it works for you, then by all means, keep doing it.

So, I finally wrote the ending to my Novel in Progress…..

…….and it felt good.  While I didn’t write the actual ‘The End’, it was a definitive ending that will carry over into the next story.  There were a lot of fun and humorous moments in this story, as well as frustrating ones, but I muddled through and got to that final period that ended the final sentence.

There were some interesting things going on in this story, not the least of which that it has parallels to my saucy speakeasy story. [1]  The story begins and ends in a cemetery and involves a family.  The Narrator descends into a basement (house, library, county court house, store) on at least four separate occasions.  She grows progressively less resistant to the idea that she has power, that she matters, that she has a voice.  Her reliance on ghosts is cut off until she finally is able to embrace her strength and power and chooses to face it, rather than run, which was her normal reaction.

If I were to apply Jungian theory to this, I’d call the basement the physical representation of the Narrator’s subconscious.  In each instance, she is given information, which she takes back with her to the surface.  By not resisting her own power, she is literally able to unlock and open doors without using a key or lock picks.  By choosing to embrace this power, she destroys the lies told about herself and is given the opportunity to know herself honestly.

This was not a planned theme – as I drew closer to the ending, I became increasingly aware of these subtle meanings within the text.  As I go back into it, for editing, revision and general clean up, I’m sure I’ll start finding more subtleties and either rein them in or emphasize them a little more.

The Manuscript in Question.

[1] I wrote a blog post in March of this year about the multiple similarities between this novel and my saucy speakeasy.  You can find it here.

So, I’m getting close to writing ‘The End’ on my Novel In Progress….

……and I know this because I’m distracting myself every ten or fifteen minutes.

If it’s not a post on Facebook, or a handful of tweets, or even preparing a few entries for my Patreon page, it’s channel surfing. Or I’m surfing the internet, looking up articles for new story ideas.

I’m procrastinating, in other words.  Not an unusual thing, but a definite habit.  Because once it’s done, it’s done.  There’s no going back…..well, okay, that’s not true, because there’s editing and revising and moving whole chunks of narrative around or eliminating altogether.

The point is, writing ‘The End’ on a story means that I no longer have this project to go back to, in the manner that I’m used to.  Now, when I go back to my novel, it will be to murder my darlings (words, for the lay person) and tighten up the narrative.

I’m distracting myself right now, writing this blog post.  And in a few minutes, that distraction will carry itself over to errands that need doing in town.  Maybe even lunch.

And when all that is done and behind me, I will fire up this computer, open up that document and throw words at it until I have no more.  Take a deep breath, throw some more words in, move things around and I will keep doing that until I am forced to write the inevitable.

‘The End.’

The Manuscript in Question.

So, Novel in Progress is coming along……

……and I’m really excited about it.  I haven’t been this excited about a writing project in a really long time, so I’m doubly happy.

So far, it’s clocking in at just over 94,000 words, but the actual number is in doubt, since I’ve got a couple of scenes to write, as well as the ending. The word count is also fluctuating because words are being added or sacrificed – they’re definitely getting moved around – and, since that’s how a writer pens, it’s all good.

What projects are you working on?

So, I’ve been working on my Novel in Progress…..

…….and I noticed an interesting connection it had with my saucy speakeasy story.  No, neither story features characters that show up in both tales, nor does the action take place in the same time frame or location.

However, that being said, this is what I’ve noticed.  It’s not the first time I’ve noticed at least one connection, but the others surprised me.

The Novel in Progress is a contemporary tale, with flashbacks to the 1920s via letters and experiences related by other characters.  The Narrator 1, due to circumstances dictated by the story, is a virgin.  I didn’t even realize that until I’d been writing the novel for a about a year and a half – it just never crossed my mind.  She is estranged from her parents and has no other family to speak of, as far as she knows.

And then, I wrote a few of scenes where she interacts with two very different men at different points in the story.  One expresses obvious interest in her, flirts with her, gives her his contact information (which she promptly gives away to another woman, despite her own cautious interest).

The second man is made a prisoner by the same people looking for the Narrator 1, which unites them in their own survival and freedom. There is a moment where both of them become aware of the other, but she blurts out “I’m not ready” and they both back away from it.

Interestingly, “I’m not ready” is the same thing said by the female Narrator 2 in my speakeasy story.  Only, the dynamics are little different, as this work in progress is following the erotica beats.  Where Novel in Progress is set in the Present, with only occasional flashbacks to the past, including the 1920s, the Saucy Speakeasy Story is fixed very firmly in that decade, from flappers to jazz music to bootleg whiskey.

Narrator 2 is about the same age (nearing 30) as the Narrator 1, but her life circumstances are in direct contrast.  She has three younger siblings, of whom she assumed care of when their parents died.  She had a fiancee who died in World War I and has had some sexual experiences that Narrator 1 did not.  She is not afraid of her own feelings or her desires and the man she meets in this saucy tale revels in her own autonomy.

I’ve been working on both stories for the last couple of years.  I ought to have noticed these similarities sooner, but I guess it’s one of those things that you only notice when you’re ready to see it.  The fact that the two Narrators are also so different and so tied to their time and place, I guess it’s not that hard to miss.

I’m amused that I’m writing about two very different women who are separated by almost one hundred years, five hundred miles and life experiences.

What are their similarities?  They are moving from one established role to another, one by chance, the other by choice.  They refuse to compromise themselves to achieve whatever goal they accept.  They’re smart and articulate and the men in their lives respect them.

Interesting.

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